Art can help a space tell your story. Here are some ideas for buying it and arranging it in your living room.
Artwork can bring so much good energy to a room. But getting from a blank wall to that happy place can feel daunting. (If you’ve ever left a frame leaning against a wall in the den, you’re not alone!) Whether you want to curate a mix that encapsulates your family’s style, or you’re an avid collector who simply needs a nudge to finally populate that big bare wall, here’s a guide through the process of creating a flawless gallery wall.
1. Lean It on a Ledge
If you have ever-changing tastes and an always-expanding collection, a shallow shelf lets you rearrange your display on a whim (without leaving holes in the wall).
- Set a color palette to tie your art and frame collection together, no matter the mix of mediums or materials.
- Layer only two frames deep. More will look bulky.
- The center of the composition should be at eye level.
2. Stock a Staircase
An assortment of large posters and smaller prints brings color and personality to a staircase wall. Stagger the frames parallel to the steps, and use the railing as a guide for the lower edge of the arrangement.
- The “more the merrier” approach shown here also works in other clearly constrained areas, like the walls of a powder room.
- In high-traffic areas like the stairway, pieces can easily get bumped askew. To keep art even and level, anchor the corners of each frame with removable adhesive strips.
- Make the mix feel unique by including custom pieces, either kid-drawn or professionally commissioned—like this portrait of a first home.
3. Eclectic Arrangement
The secret to a cohesive gallery wall is patience—and a strong focal point. Start by hanging an anchor piece and build out from there over time. Aim to have at least one unifying principle (color scheme, frame material, art style) among everything you hang.
- Shine a light on a favorite or meaningful piece with a library-style sconce.
- Add curved elements and sculptural objects to give the assortment dimension.
- When thrifting, search for high-quality frames. If the art was special enough for someone to frame nicely, it’s worth a careful look.
4. Grid of Family Photos
Give meaningful pictures (and people!) a special spot in your home within a clean-lined arrangement—a grouping of smaller pieces creates an intimate collection that invites guests to come in for a closer peek.
- To unify your collection, convert photos to black and white and use identical frames.
- A gridded layout fills a wall without appearing too busy.
- If you’re placing art over a piece of furniture—be it a sofa or sideboard—the arrangement should span two-thirds its width, with the lowest frame edge at least 4 inches above it.
Professional Advice on Gathering a Collection
Art should complement, not compete with, your room’s focal point. Look at your rug, for example. If it has a busy pattern, stick with one large piece instead of a gallery wall.
Incorporating sentimental ephemera (like cherished kids’ drawings or ticket stubs) instantly brings character to a collection. In your display, aim to have one out of every five pieces feel homemade or autobiographical.
If you like the look of paintings but are on a print budget, search for words like “giclée” or “artist enhanced” in the description. These techniques give a suggestion of brushstrokes.
Frames can get expensive (especially custom ones), but they’re worth the investment because quality options elevate the look of the entire room and last longer than bargain versions.
If you plan to hang something across from a window, consider matte paper without glass or a canvas print to prevent glare. Alternatively, museum glass is relatively glare-free.
Even the pros can have a hard time getting different frames to line up evenly. That’s why they swear by this trick: Stick painter’s tape across the back of the frame and mark or poke a hole where the hook or nail should go. Then transfer the tape to the wall and attach the hardware in the right spot on your first try.
If there’s an architectural element in your space, display one large piece of artwork above it and hang a gallery-style arrangement on the opposite wall.